Christmas at the Manse – Childhood Memories

Christmas at the Manse – Childhood Memories

Being the eldest of six children and daughter of the minister, Christmas was always a very busy but special time of the year.

When I brought this topic up with my 5 siblings recently, during one of our family Zoom meets, the first memory was helping Dad decorate all the church pews with greenery, red bows and real candles. In fact, as soon as Dad was appointed to a new church, he was on the lookout for anyone who had suitable garden greenery. I have a vivid recollection one year of candle wax dripping onto a lady’s hat, causing quite a stir!

Decorating also occurred in the house but with simple decorations, mostly home-made, including Chinese lanterns and tinsel.  

Santa Claus was a reliable Christmas constant in our household- in fact, being the eldest in a family spread over quite a wide age range, I reckon I am the only person Santa visited right up until I was married at age 25! We have a memory of hearing whispering in Mum and Dad’s bedroom in the wee hours of Christmas morning, obviously ensuring each child had been treated evenly. The gifts were placed in pillowcases at the end of our beds. Before dawn we were feeling the contents of the pillowcases to guess the contents and the presents we were most excited about were the bags of chocolate coins. Apart from checking our Santa pillowcases, other presents had to wait until after the Christmas church service.

Given the size of our family, we were not often invited to meals at parishioners’ homes, however at Christmas time there was a constant stream of people showering our family with food gifts including Christmas cake, shortbread, glace fruit, chocolate almonds and one Christmas a huge ham – which Mother had no idea how to deal with!  Then there was the bottle of Johnny Walker whiskey given to Dad from the local funeral director!  Dad, being a strict teetotaller, graciously accepted the gift then promptly placed it in an inaccessible cupboard. There was a subsequent family rumour Mum got into it during one of Father’s absences, egged on by the nuns at the Catholic school where she taught.

With both parents growing up on sheep farms, lamb featured very heavily in our normal diet so at Christmas we were very excited to be treated with chicken! Each year our Christmas table was shared with someone (often a maiden aunt) who otherwise would have been alone. I reckon that perhaps they may have preferred being alone after experiencing our chaotic meal table.

Our musically inclined Dad would always want family input into what was to be sung by the choir- much to the annoyance, I suspect, of the organist and choir leader! Dad’s interest in photography also came to the fore and one year he created a magnificent slide show to accompany the choir singing Australian Christmas Carols. I never cease to sing one of these Carols without recalling that special audio-visual! At his urging some cantata or another would inevitably be sung each Christmas also.

Altogether, very happy memories of many simple, church-life dominated but magical Christmases. 

Ruth